Breathing is quite important. We can go for weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air.
Don’t be a mouth-breather. Mouth breathers are dumb.
Two quick anecdotes I’d like you to consider. As I understand it, the very first thing children when training to become Zen monks is to learn and control breathing, because breath is the first thing we do, and the last thing we do. And in nature, you’ll never see predators mouth breathing for oxygen while pursuing prey, but prey will mouth breathe because for the predator, they can go on to catch something else if they don’t overextend themselves, but for the prey, it’s literally do or die.
Moral of the story is this. When you’re thinking, planning and making good decisions, you’re breathing through your nose. When you’re panicked and scrambling, you’re breathing through your mouth. Mouth breathers are dumb. Don’t be a mouth breather.
Stressful, high-pressure situations lead to faster breathing. Our physiology needs to ramp it up in order to deal with what could be a potentially dangerous situation. That’s great if we are trying to escape a sabertooth tiger trying to eat us. Not so great if we are trying to make decisions around budget, tax or staff/relationship management. People are people, and our evolution as people hasn’t caught up to the modern, stressful world. If we don’t control our breathing well, we don’t control anything well.
There’s a simple reason for why deep, nasal breathing is so much more effective than mouth breathing. When we are breathing deeply, inhaling and exhaling through the nose, our “human brain” and the parasympathetic nervous system, is activated. When we are mouth-breathing, our “animal & reptile brains” and the sympathetic nervous system are activated. This is what leads to many of the physiological, neurophysiological and psychical effects.
The effects on your mind and the body-mind connection.
Here’s a list of effects that maintaining effective breathing rhythm has:
- Lowers stress and anxiety
- Improves focus
- Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of stroke and aneurysm
- Improves fat burning, muscle building and skill development
- Grows the brain
- Changes the way genes operate regarding immune function and fat storage
Quite important, right? For the full article with relevant scientific links, click here. Come back to that later, let’s keep going with the benefits and how to implement those benefits into your life.
The effects on fat-burning, cortisol production and posture
As we said earlier, proper breathing fires up the parasympathetic nervous system. What this means for us is that our body makes better use of the oxygen it is getting in and flushes out more of the carbon dioxide. The knock-on effect of that is that we burn more fat & flush more toxins. Sympathetic nervous system activation (which is what happens when we mouth breathe) raises cortisol levels. I’m sure you already know high cortisol levels are not a good thing. More info on the relationship between breathing and fat loss here.
What this means is, the best way to burn fat and maintain a strong immune system is to breathe deeply through the nose! Training harder, to the point where you are mouth-breathing, is not better for fat loss, muscle building or skill development. It’s actually worse. Don’t be a mouth-breather.
How to breathe properly
In order to effectively breathe, our bodies need to be in good posture. Here’s an easy way for you to feel the difference. Slump down, rounding your shoulders and putting your chin on your chest. Take as deep a breath as you can without hurting yourself. Inhale and exhale, paying attention to how much and how long you can draw air. Now sit or stand with good posture. Head up, shoulders back. Take a deep breath, down to the bottom of your belly, along your belly to expand and contract as you’re breathing in and out. Feel the difference? An easy way to check posture is simply to breathe properly and feel for restriction.
To check whether you are getting nice, deep breaths down to the bottom of your lungs, put your hand at the top of your stomach, with your thumb just below your solar plexus. If you can feel your hand moving and your shoulders not elevating much, you’re breathing deeply.
The rhythm you want to try to maintain breathing at is a 2x inhale, x hold, 2x exhale, x hold. So if you inhale for a count of 4, hold for 2, exhale for 4, and then hold for 2 again. Rinse, repeat. Take 2 minutes, do that for 10 breaths now, with your hand on your belly, and tell me you don’t feel different.
The effects on your body language, attractiveness and subjective emotional experience
So when we are breathing right, our posture is good. Good posture has a positive effect on our non-verbal body language, how we are perceived, and even how we feel emotionally! 80% of communication is non-verbal, good posture naturally leads to good body language and good emotional state, and good breathing leads to good posture.
More info on the way our posture affects our non-verbal cues, attractiveness etc. here and on the way our posture affects our emotional state here.
How we train proper breathing in stressful, high-pressure situations at Fight Sports Centre
Everyone shouts about how martial arts teach discipline. Discipline starts with controlling your breath (and I don’t mean brushing your teeth). Naturally, the first time you put on a pair of gloves and hit something, your sympathetic nervous system will activate. People have been fighting since people have been people. The way to transcend our animal side is to engage in animalistic, instinctive activities while keeping the human part of our brains active.
What we’ll do is we will get gloves on you and you’ll work with a partner. Naturally, your fight-or-flight response (the sympathetic nervous system) will activate to some extent. We will take you through a very basic drill, reminding you to breathe along the way. Once you’re getting comfortable with the drill at that basic level, we will increase the complexity, and again reminding you to breathe. Rinse, repeat until you are at a level where you are basically sparring. Even during the sparring, we will remind you to breathe.
There are a few tricks we use to do that, so you can directly and immediately experience the benefits of proper breathing, it’s effects on your mental state, and just how much more effective you are. It’ll take us about 5 minutes for you to experience this.
You’ll immediately experience the value of breath control and you’ll learn how to “unfreeze” your mind by keeping your breath moving. Learn how to breathe for peak performance, stress and anxiety management and brain growth and carry the benefits with you into your daily life.